Respect Will Spotlight Aretha Franklin's Faith, Director Says: Her Career 'Started' and 'Finished with the Church'

  Michael Foust | Contributor | Tuesday, May 25, 2021
<em>Respect</em> Will Spotlight Aretha Franklin's Faith, Director Says: Her Career 'Started' and 'Finished with the Church'

An upcoming theatrical movie about Aretha Franklin will focus on her church roots and her gospel music background, says the director of the biopic about the "queen of soul."

The movie, Respect (PG-13), opens in theaters on Aug. 13, starring Jennifer Hudson in the lead role and Forest Whitaker as Franklin's father, C.L. The trailer debuted Wednesday.

Franklin grew up singing in New Bethel Baptist Church in Detroit, where her father was the pastor, and recorded multiple gospel albums throughout her career. She is a member of the Gospel Music Hall of Fame.

Director Liesl Tommy told media members during a conference call this week that she felt inspired to spotlight the importance of the church in Franklin's career.

"It started with the church, and it finished with the church. It was her journey to superstardom," Tommy said the singer's career.

Respect will focus on Franklin's faith, family and her "journey from a person who sang standards to a person who sang her own music," the director said.

"I've loved her music since I was a small child," Tommy said.

Franklin was born in Memphis, although her family soon moved to Detroit. Franklin recorded her first gospel LP at the age of 14. A bio on the Gospel Music Hall of Fame website says Franklin was "regularly singing solo numbers" in church by her late teens.

Franklin went on to become a soul and R&B star, yet never forgot her gospel roots. Her 1972 gospel LP, Amazing Grace, is her best-selling album of all time. It was recorded live at the New Temple Missionary Baptist Church in Los Angeles. A film featuring the recording – also called Amazing Grace – was released in 2018 and was nominated for 15 awards. The Respect plot includes the recording of the album.

"I've seen it a million times," Tommy said of Amazing Grace. "... It's so overwhelming. It's her faith, and her connection to the music and the way she let music take her -- it's all in there. It was essential to me to put in the movie."

Said Hudson of Amazing Grace, "It felt like church to me. It helped me understand my church roots that much more."

Franklin released other gospel albums, including One Lord, One Faith, One Baptism (1987) and Gospel Greats (1999).

She was the first female inductee into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame and won 18 Grammy Awards.

Hudson said her own Christian faith helped her depict Franklin.

"I am a child of God born in the church," Hudson told media members this week. "It's so natural. I feel like that is one of our closest connections – is our faith. And ... having that background, coming from the church, which I completely understood instantly. And even for myself, I was able to draw from that for the character and for myself to lead me through such a project. ... So it's always the base for me. And obviously, I truly believe it was the base for her as well."

Respect is rated PG-13 for mature thematic content, strong language including racial epithets, violence, suggestive material, and smoking.

Photo courtesy: ©MGM

Video courtesy: ©MGM

Michael Foust has covered the intersection of faith and news for 20 years. His stories have appeared in Baptist Press, Christianity Today, The Christian Post, the Leaf-Chroniclethe Toronto Star and the Knoxville News-Sentinel.